Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Every Child Has The Right To Muck Up Their Clothes

This is one of Persil’s adverts for their “small and mighty” washing liquid, launched in 2008. The ad uses a few simple, persuasive techniques combined with some creative camera tricks to put across their message.

The most poignant feature of the ad is the metaphor for the “small and mighty” Persil product, which include relatively small children (seemingly) being able to push an enormous dog sitting in a cart. Meta-analyses have highlighted the effectiveness of metaphors versus literal language in changing attitudes (Sopory & Dillard, 2002). The images also have the combined effect of subverting expectations, piquing interest in the ad, which, according to research (Fennis, Das & Pruyn, 2004), can induce favourable feelings towards the product and boosts compliance (in this case, buying behaviour).

The association between the product and bright colours, summer, and cleanliness, is implicit but strong, and is a technique rooted in classical conditioning. For example, Olson and Fazio (2001) successfully influenced attitudes by pairing Pokémon characters with negative or positive stimuli. In this case, Persil are hoping to pair their product (conditioned stimulus) with a number of positive attributes, such as fun, bright colours and clean clothes (unconditioned stimuli). The ad, to some extent, also argues against Persil’s self-interest, with the phrase “a bottle will do the same amount of washing twice its size”. This implies that the consumer will get more washes out of one bottle and thus not need to buy more of the product, whilst also helping the consumer to reduce their carbon footprint. Arguing against self-interest boosts the effectiveness of a message by surprising the consumer and making them believe that what the influencer is saying is true (Pratkanis, 2007).

This Persil ad also draws on close relationships by focusing the message on the needs of children and how parents can care for them best. This is a strong persuasion tactic because it draws upon the knowledge that people put the needs of significant others before their own, otherwise they feel guilt (Pratkanis, 2007). Guilt is a strong emotion that people are motivated to avoid, and brands can take advantage of this (Burnett & Lunsford, 1994). The slogan at the end of the ad: “every child has the right to be a child”, epitomises this. It leaves consumers with the message that if they do not buy the product, then their child’s clothes will become stained and dirty, unless they do not allow the child to “be a child”. This is the nub of anticipatory regret, which motivates consumers to buy products to protect against future consequences, such as consistently buying lottery tickets (Wolfson & Briggs, 2002).


Burnett, M. S., & Lunsford, D. A. (1994). Conceptualizing guilt in the consumer decision-making process. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 11, 33-43.

Fennis, B. M., Das, E. H., & Pruyn, A. T. H. (2004). “If You Can’t Dazzle Them with Brilliance, Baffle Them with Nonsense”: Extending the Impact of the Disrupt-Then-Reframe Technique of Social Influence. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14, 280-290.

Olson, M. A., & Fazio, R. H. (2001). Implicit attitude formation through classical conditioning. Psychological Science, 12, 413-417.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. In The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. (pp. 17-82). New York: Psychology Press.

Sopory, P., & Dillard, J. P. (2002). The persuasive effects of metaphor: a meta‐analysis. Human Communication Research, 28, 382-419.

Wolfson, S., & Briggs, P. (2002). Locked into gambling: Anticipatory regret as a motivator for playing the National Lottery. Journal of Gambling Studies, 18, 1-17.

Lauren Rosewarne

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